Depression Is Not a Normal Part of Aging: Get Help

Photo with dark background showing depressed elder man.

Depression may be common among older adults, but it is not a normal part of aging. According to our county’s Services for Older Adults, studies show that most older adults feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) describes depression as a common but serious mood disorder that needs treatment. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating or working. When you have depression, you have trouble with daily life for weeks at a time.

According to the NIH, most people who experience depression need treatment to get better. It isn’t something you can just “snap out of it.”

Life Changes…

Important life changes that happen as we get older may cause feelings of uneasiness, stress and sadness. After a period of adjustment, many older adults regain their emotional balance, but others do not and may develop depression. Examples of life changes that can impact your mental wellness include:

  • Transitioning into retirement.
  • Death of a loved one.
  • Dealing with a serious illness.
Symptoms May Be Hard To Recognize

Depression in older adults may be difficult to recognize. For some older adults who have depression, sadness is not their main symptom. They may have other, less obvious symptoms or they may not be willing to talk about their feelings. Some signs to look for:

  • Feeling tired.
  • Having trouble sleeping.
  • Feeling grumpy and irritable.
  • Confusion or attention problems (can sometimes look like Alzheimer’s disease or other brain disorders).
  • Medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke or cancer may cause depressive symptoms, as well as the side effects from medications.
Is It Grief or Depression?

Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish grief from major depression. Grief after loss of a loved one is a normal reaction and generally does not require professional mental health treatment. However, grief that is complicated and lasts for a very long time following a loss may require treatment.

3 Ways to Get Help for You or a Loved One
Contrary to what many think, depression is not a normal part of aging and is very treatable. That said, treating mental health issues in older adults does require some specialized skills to account for their medical and age-specific needs. We’re looking forward to helping provide information and answer questions from residents, loved ones, and caretakers with specific information that can help.”Grace Nozaki, Older Adult Behavioral Health Clinician, Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board

1. Learn more about depression from the National Institute of Mental Health.

2. Call the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board for guidance and resources at 703-383-8500, TTY 711.

3. Mark your calendar to attend one of three free community presentations on caring for mental wellness. Presenters are licensed county therapists and specialists in older adult wellness resources.

  • Tuesday, Sept. 13, 11 a.m. to noon at Herndon Senior Center (open to members and public), 873 Grace Street, Herndon. Call the Fairfax Area Agency on Aging at 703-324-5411 for more registration and ADA accommodations.
  • Monday, Sept. 19, 1 to 2 p.m. at George Mason Library, 7001 Little River Turnpike,  Annandale. Call the Community Services Board’s Public Information Line at 703-324-7006 for more information and ADA accommodations.
  • Tuesday, Sept. 20, 1 to 2 p.m. at Sherwood Regional Library, 2501 Sherwood Hall Lane, Alexandria. Call the Community Services Board’s Public Information Line at 703-324-7006 for more information and ADA accommodations.
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